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If there is anyone who knows what Steelers’ sec-ond-round pick Chase Claypool can bring to his new team, it’s Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly. “For me, his coach, what I have enjoyed more than anything else is somebody who had grown up and matured over his time at Notre Dame,” said Kelly. “He was mentored by some great players before him. They have really influenced him as well. As we got to 2019, he really emerged because he wanted to live up to that ability as well.”
One word those at Notre Dame consistently associated with Claypool was “dependable.” He had 66 receptions for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior season, and when needed most, he came through.
“If you look at our games, when it was on the line, Chase Claypool made the plays necessary for us to be successful,” said Kelly. “Chase stepped up and made the big plays when we needed him. Whether it was Virginia Tech, Stan-ford, or USC. It didn’t matter who the competi-tion was, Chase Claypool made those big, big plays.”
One prime example came in 2019 against Virginia Tech when he had eight receptions for 118 yards, which included a toe-tap catch on the sideline and a big play on fourth-and-long on the final game-winning drive.
“It was cool to be in those situations,” said Claypool. “Going into the year I was told I would have to be in situations that when the game is on the line, I was going to have to make a play. The more you are in those situations, in practice or game, you learn and grow from it. Preparation was the key to make that happen.”
Claypool, from British Columbia, Canada, knows all about the importance of preparation. In high school, he tried to catch the attention of college coaches when he was going unnoticed in the United States. He put his high school highlights on Facebook and those highlights made the rounds to different schools, including Notre Dame.
“It’s his upbringing that makes him competitive,” said Kelly. “Coming from Canada, football was not king there. He was always trying to showcase himself, put himself in a position where he could get noticed. It’s Canada, it’s hockey. He was always playing the sport that never got the recognition.
“Growing up he learned to look out for himself. His mom did a great job of raising him as a single parent. He was carrying that with him as well. I think it’s always been Chase’s way to be that guy who has to go that extra mile. That’s who he is.”
Claypool had to pay his dues at Notre Dame. He wasn’t an immediate contributor on offense, with just six receptions for 81 yards as a freshman, but he discovered special teams and learned to love.
“He takes great pride in (special teams),” said Kelly. “As a matter of fact, he came to me and said, ‘Coach, you can’t take me off special teams.’ We were going to take him off, and he asked not to be taken off any. It was something he did as a freshman and had great success and took great pride in. It’s part of his DNA now.”
Another part of his football DNA is his block-ing. At 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, Claypool doesn’t mind being physical and that will serve him well when the Steelers use their receivers to block for the run.
“I have had many conversations with NFL head coaches and GMs who believed he could play tight end position because of the way he blocked,” said Kelly. “There is no question about his physicality at the point of attack. His ability to go in and block safeties. Is he going to block (Stephon) Tuitt off the line of scrimmage? Prob-ably not? But he will be physical at the point of attack. He will dominate defensive backs, no doubt.”
According to Kelly, Claypool is a perfect fit for this franchise.“You got a player who really resembles the fan base,” said Kelly. “He is dependable, he’s going to be there every single week even if he’s nicked up because he has an immense amount of pride in what he does. He is going to bring the physical aspect every week, and he is going to make plays.
“He is a Steeler. He is that kind of player. There isn’t a better place he could go to in the NFL. He epitomizes Steelers Nation.”Claypool stopped for a minute and actually thought about that, about the kid who grew up playing in obscurity in British Columbia got to Notre Dame and now is an NFL player. And it felt good.
"He is dependable, he’s going to be there every single week even if he’s nicked up because he has an immense amount of pride in what he does. He is going to bring the physical aspect every week, and he is going to make plays.” - Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly
“Growing up I would never think it was a reality that all of this would happen, but it was always a dream,” said Claypool. “You never want to get your hopes up. You dream of something like this. Luckily for me it paid off.” And Claypool, who has had his share of heartache in his young life, seems deserving. When he was just 13, he was awakened one morning by his mother, Jasmine, with words he could barely even process. His sister, Ashley, who was only 17 years old, had taken her own life.
“When my mom told me, I thought I was still dreaming,” said Claypool. “She woke me up and told me. I brushed it off as something that couldn’t be possible. Then it set in. It’s a situation you can never prepare for.
“It was definitely super difficult. It’s a situation you don’t know how to handle. At first you want to push everyone away and shun the world. The older I got, the more mature I got, I was using everyone around me as a resource. I used that for relationships I could build with people. It was difficult at first, but I learned how to handle it. It made me be there for my mom that much more. Having to deal with something like that at an early age speeds up the process.”
Claypool carries his sister’s memory with him with a tattoo on his right arm: “A thousand words won’t bring you back. I know, because I tried. Neither will a thousand tears. I know, because I’ve cried. Until we meet again.”
It motivates him in everything he does. “I want to show she always lives with me,” said Claypool. “She always has a special place with me. It’s just a little dedication to her.”